National Geographic : 2004 Sep
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN Now some people worry that the school's spir itual foundation is eroding. Casino funding and the school's lease are scheduled to end in 2010. With plans to build a new school, the board of directors laid off more than 40 employees one-fourth of the staff. Parents bitterly criticized the board. Students petitioned to halt the lay offs. "In the school we are like a family together," one sixth grader said, lamenting the cuts. In this extended family, people gather to pray in times of trouble. So one cold March night, Waubano organizes a sweat lodge ceremony for a young man who's slated to lose his job as a teacher's aide. A dozen or so men and boys hud dle around a bonfire in the courtyard, seeking refuge from swirling, bitter winds. Buried in the blaze, rocks absorb the energy to heat the lodge, a low hut of canvas and blankets stretched over a frame of maple saplings: the womb of Mother Earth, according to tradition. When the stones ("the grandfathers," Waubano calls them) are ready, everyone crawls into the lodge, around a shallow pit. Waiting in the dim light, the boys joke nervously. One confesses to being afraid. "Face your fear," a friend replies. The fire tender places seven stones in the pit. Waubano sprinkles tobacco on the rocks, then pours water over them. Steam-the breath of the Creator-envelops everything. The door closes, and Waubano's deep voice, speaking in his native Menominee, rises in the darkness. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, the men and boys chant, pray, and drum for hours in the dizzying heat. Three times new rocks are brought in. The participants sweat and sweat, sipping water once, eating a single strawberry apiece. When the ceremony ends, they crawl out of the lodge, emerging from Mother Earth as they entered the world, cleansed and pure, if only tem porarily. Their suffering, Waubano explains later, is a gift to the young teacher's aide, a way of sharing his burden and giving him strength. D WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Find more 53208 images along with field notes and resources at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/0409. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/zipcode/0409. Close to downtown (below), the campus holds sweat lodges (bottom). Smudging (above)-burning sage to purify body and mind occurs before all school events. Says Joannah Con nors, "I get to help give everyone good thoughts."